Handling mistakes on slides; Issue #180 March 10, 2009

PowerPoint Tip: Handling mistakes on slides

Last week I made a mistake on a slide and someone noticed during the session. I had typed the 13th of the month instead of the 10th in a visual. How did they know I was wrong? Because the explanatory text on the slide and what I said were not consistent with what my visual showed. This happens to all presenters, no matter how careful we are. The key is how you respond when someone points out the mistake.

Unfortunately, this seems to rattle some presenters. If you are a little nervous, this could throw a big wrench in your wheels. But don’t worry. It is actually a good sign when people are asking questions like this because it shows they are interested and have a desire to better understand your point.

So what should you do? First, pause a moment to determine whether what they are saying is correct. You may even want to ask them to explain what they see as incorrect because you may not be able to see the error. This can get other audience members involved and it can provide additional insight that everyone can benefit from.

If indeed your slide is incorrect, admit the mistake, using humour if possible. In the situation last week, I immediately recognized my mistake and handled it by saying: “I did that just to see if you were paying attention!” People laughed and I apologized for the mistake. If you are not sure if the information is a mistake, be honest and say that you are not sure about it and you will investigate more and get back to them. The final step is to correct the mistake, making sure the audience knows the correct information, and move on to your next point.

Don’t dwell on the mistake and don’t beat yourself up over it. We all make mistakes from time to time and your audience understands that. They are just glad it didn’t happen to them that day 🙂